Quake Hits California Vintners

John Murray

, Uncategorized

August event expected to have little effect on prices

Shake, rattle and roll: that’s what makes an earthquake, especially in wine country. Buildings collapse, barrels shift and are thrown, glass breaks and people get hurt. That happened in Napa Valley on Aug. 24 at 3:30 a.m., when a 6.1 earthquake interrupted a peaceful night.

Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties sustained the brunt of the damages, with repair estimates totaling more than $400 million. USGA research geophysicist Annmarie Boltay describes an earthquake as being like a bowl of Jell-O, “once shaken and continues to shake for a long time.” The Napa event was no exception, and it seemed unusually long. Some people thought it lasted close to a minute.

Preliminary reports have about 120 wineries suffering approximately $80 million in damages. Most occurred in the Sonoma Valley, Carneros, Oak Knoll and the Rutherford Bench appellations of Sonoma and Napa counties.

Bouchaine Vineyards in Carneros, locally owned by Gerret and Tatiana Copeland, sustained damages to 30 barrels. A barrel contains the equivalent of 25 cases or about 60 gallons. That’s a lot of wine down the drain.

Jeff McBride, head winemaker for Benziger Winery in Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley, told me, “There were no issues, and we were extremely grateful.” Unfortunately, down the road from Benziger, B.R. Cohn Winery was not as fortunate. Cracked barrels spewed their 2013 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon all over the winery, potentially losing the entire vintage.
Napa winery Trefethen in the Oak Knoll district suffered structural damage to its historic barrel room. That’s a beautiful building; I hope it can be repaired.

Silver Oak Cellars had multiple wine racks collapse and hundreds of bottles broken. Saintsbury, in the Carneros appellation, lost many archival library wines. Doug Shafer, Shafer Winery, and Michael Honig, Honig Winery, both texted me: “All ok! We were lucky.”

There is a great sense of camaraderie in the wine industry, as exhibited by Burgess Cellars offering storage space.

All in all, larger producers will probably absorb the losses and maintain normal prices. Small wineries will not be as lucky. They will have trouble making ends meet and will have to increase prices.

My gut feeling is that some wines may increase in price, but there will still be many great wines available with no increase. Don’t panic. Buy, be smart, trust your tastes, and most of all, enjoy!

John Murray is the owner of State Line Liquors.

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